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On Black Prairie’s debut, Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, listeners caught an introduction to the broad musical inclinations of Decemberists members Chris Funk, Nate Query and Jenny Conlee and fellow Portland musicians Annalisa Tornfelt and Jon Neufeld, classic instrumental string-band tones mixing with the vibrant bounce of Romani music and bursts of Tornfelt vocal-led pop.

The new A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart— out September 18 via Sugar Hill Records — goes far deeper than an introduction, offering a more intimate, layered look into the five bandmates’ predilections and abilities, and a snapshot of a group that’s grown from a side project into a focused, full-fledged band.

Funk and Query initially hatched the idea for Black Prairie as a way to explore instrumental string band music during Decemberists downtime, and those beginnings aren’t absent on A Tear in the Eye. But the growth from idea into five-part whole is immediately present, as Tornfelt’s sweetly harmonied pop takes more of the foreground, and the band digs deeper into the traditions studied on their debut.

The overriding focus in writing A Tear in the Eye, Neufeld says, was simply to follow each member’s creative impulses, in whatever stylistic form they took.

“I don't feel like there's any boundaries in this band at all,” he says. “That feeling of freedom, of, ‘Yeah, let's do that, let's do this.’ It's pretty free-flowing in that way.”

As musicians, the members of Black Prairie have been keeping plenty busy beyond working on A Tear in the Eye and with their other bands, too. In early 2012, the band paired with the Oregon Children’s Theatre, composing music for the playThe Storm in the Barn. For 2012’s Record Store Day in April, they issued a limited-edition 7-inch record featuring collaborations with The Shins’ James Mercer and Sallie Ford of Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside.

The latter project launched Black Prairie’s ongoing Singers EP series, which will feature songwriting team-ups with an array of friendly voices, with new releases coming in natural bursts, as Black Prairie and their co-conspirators’ schedules allow. (Releases with Martha Scanlan and Langhorne Slim are already in the works.)

Those free-flowing collaborations just extend the approach the members take with Black Prairie.

“One of the things I appreciate so much about this group is how much it's truly collaborative,” Query says. “It's really easy, because everybody trusts each other and is excited about each others' skills and unique superpowers. It's always really exciting — you never know what’s going to happen.”

John Wesley Harding



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